A fresh-milled flour experiment!


IMG_20180128_204100.jpgMy lovely fiancé bought me a Kitchenaid grain mill attachment for Christmas.  I have been baking quite a bit of bread over the last year or two and I was curious about fresh-milled flour – I had read that it has a nicer flavour than store-bought flour.  This weekend I decided to put it to the test.  I made four small loaves of bread using four different kinds of whole wheat flour:

  1. Stone Buhr brand whole wheat flour (made from “spring wheat” according to their website)
  2. Fresh-milled organic wheat berries from the bulk section at Metropolitan Market (no indication of what type of wheat)
  3. Fresh-milled organic “hard red wheat” berries from Nash’s Organic Produce (local to Washington), at the Ballard Farmer’s Market
  4. Fresh-milled organic “soft white wheat” berries from Nash’s Organic Produce (local to Washington), at the Ballard Farmer’s Market

The four different flours

I chose the recipe “50% Whole Wheat Bread with Biga” from Ken Forkish’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast.  I hadn’t made this one before, but I wanted something with a fairly high percentage of whole wheat and not much else added, so that I could taste the whole wheat clearly (my favourite recipe so far from that book has rye flour in it as well). The “50%” in the name refers to the amount of whole wheat flour – in this case there was 500g of whole wheat flour and 500g of white flour in total.  Generally, people don’t make 100% whole wheat breads because whole wheat flour doesn’t develop gluten as well so they would be pretty dense, and whole wheat flour can be a little bitter tasting.

I only milled the whole wheat flour, not the white flour.  From what I’ve read online, people don’t generally attempt to make white flour at home because the commercial process for removing the wheat germ is more effective than what you could do at home.  You could try sifting it after milling to remove the wheat germ, but I think you’d need a very fine sieve to be able to get most of it out, so it would be pretty tedious.

I started the “biga” around 11:00pm on Saturday evening, mixed the dough around 1:00pm on Sunday, and baked it around 6:00pm.  The biga is a mixture of white flour, water, and a small amount of instant yeast, that you let sit for 12-14 hours to ferment.  You then mix in the whole wheat flour, salt, more water, and more yeast, and start the bulk rise.  After 3-4 hours of bulk rise with occasional folds, you shape the loaves and proof for about an hour before baking in a cast iron dutch oven.  The recipe is supposed to make two large loaves, but instead I made four small ones.

The milling was quite straightforward!  I just had to attach the mill to the mixer and dump the grains in the top, then turn the mixer on to the highest speed. It’s a bit slow but it didn’t take me too long to get 125 g of each type of flour.  The soft white wheat took the longest to mill – I wonder if it is a harder grain.  The grain definitely looked the most distinct from the others.

The soft white wheat continued to look different from the rest throughout the process.  The flour was lighter in colour, and it seemed to absorb less water than the others, resulting in a wetter dough. The hard red wheat from Nash’s had quite the red tinge that was noticeable when I added water.

Soft white wheat flour and hard red wheat flour, with the water added

Soft white wheat flour (left) and hard red wheat flour (right), after I added the water

The four doughs after folding

The four doughs after folding

I kept each different dough in its labelled bowl and tried to treat them as much the same as I could.  After I shaped the loaves, I marked each with tallies on top to tell them apart.  Once they were baked and cooled, my fiancé and I tasted each one.

All the loaves were very tasty.  We found that loaves 2, 3, and 4, with the fresh-milled flours, had a slightly nicer texture than loaf 1 – they were lighter and more bubbly.  The flavour was quite similar between loaves 1, 2, and 3.  I could still tell that loaf 3 had a slightly more red tinge than the others.

From left to right: #1 - store-bought whole wheat flour, #2 - fresh-milled wheat berries from the grocery store, #3 - fresh-milled hard red wheat berries from the farmer's market, #4 - fresh-milled soft white wheat berries from the farmer's market.

From left to right: #1 – store-bought whole wheat flour, #2 – fresh-milled wheat berries from the grocery store, #3 – fresh-milled hard red wheat berries from the farmer’s market, #4 – fresh-milled soft white wheat berries from the farmer’s market.

#4, the soft white wheat, was again the most distinct.  It was noticeably lighter in colour, more light and bubbly in texture, and much milder a flavour – less whole-wheat-tasting.  This was my fiancé’s favourite loaf, and possibly mine too, although I do also like the heartiness of the hard red wheat.  The bubblier texture could be due to the fact that it absorbed less water – wetter doughs tend to be more bubblier.  If so, I could account for that by adding more water to the other doughs in future.

I’m excited to use the soft white wheat more – I have seen it referenced online, and the first recipe in Tartine Book No. 3 calls for it alongside regular whole wheat (presumably hard red), however, I haven’t seen soft white wheat flour in the stores.  Now I can make my own!

I also bought some rye berries from Metropolitan Market and from Nash’s Organic Produce – maybe I’ll do another side-by-side experiment with those.  And the grain mill can be used to grind corn for cornmeal, crack grains to use as bulgur, make oat flour, and so on.  Keep an eye out for a polenta post!


Baby Quilt

Baby quilt

One of my lovely sisters is expecting a baby this winter – the first grandbaby for my parents!  We are all super excited and are going to completely spoil this baby.  I decided to make this quilt for my sister’s birthday, inspired by one that we both independently noticed in a fabric store here in Seattle.  The store is Drygoods Design in Pioneer Square and they had an adorable quilt made with 4×4 squares of different floral fabrics separated by large squares of grey.

I started by collecting floral prints when I saw them – I got a some at Drygoods Design, some at Nancy’s Sewing Basket in Queen Anne, and some at District Fabric in Fremont.  It was fun to have a collection of all-over-Seattle fabrics!  I tried to get a variety of colours and a couple darker ones that would contrast more.  I bought them in the minimum quantities (at some stores 6″ and at other stores 9″).  I got half a yard extra of the yellow and red floral to use for the binding.  I got some grey quilting cotton, some pale green flannelette for the backing, and some cotton-bamboo batting.  And I managed to remember at the last minute to buy thread.

I wanted the quilt to be about 3’x4′ so I decided to do a grid of 12″ squares.  I cut 24 strips of florals, each one 14″x3.5″.  I pieced these together into six blocks of four, and then cut each block into four 3.5″ strips the other way.  I then jumbled up these strips and pieced them again into six blocks, each a 4×4 grid.

Piecing together quilt blocks

I read a little bit online about the neatest way to press the seams for this type of quilt.  If you are sewing together two pieces that have seams lining up, it will lie flatter if the seams on the two pieces are pressed in opposite directions.  In order to achieve this, when I pieced together the blocks of four strips, I pressed all the seams in one direction.  Then when I cut them up and arranged the strips into blocks the second time, I made sure that if the top strip had its seams pressed to the left, the strip below it had its seams pressed to the right, and so on (see the picture below).  Ideally you would be pressing towards the darker fabric but since I was using all different colours in no particular pattern it would have been too complicated so I didn’t bother.  Luckily the seams aren’t visible through the lighter fabrics.

Back of quilt blocks showing how the seems were pressed

Once I had my colourful 4×4 blocks, they should have been all 12.5″x12.5″, but of course they were all a little shy. I still haven’t figured out why my pieces always end up short, but it didn’t matter much here because I just cut the grey blocks a bit smaller than 12.5″x12.5″.  I pieced the blocks together into a grid, pinned the top to the batting and backing, and quilted it on my machine.  The quilting was probably the trickiest part – it is hard to keep everything flat when the top layer of the fabric gets stretched out a bit differently than the bottom layer.  I’ve heard that the spray glue that sticks the layers together and then washes out in the machine can help, so I’ll probably try that next time.

I cut 2.5″ strips of floral for the binding and machine stitched it to the front then hand stitched on the back, which was slow but gratifying!  I’m very happy with the way the binding turned out.

Hand binding of quilt

This was a lot of fun to make and has inspired me to do more sewing!  I find sewing projects move a lot faster than knitting – it just takes a bit of momentum to gather the materials and pattern and get cutting.

Hopefully this quilt keeps my future niece or nephew cozy this winter!

Baby quilt

Felted slippers

Felted slippers

Sorry for the long hiatus from blog posts!  I have had a busy few months.  After I got home from some awesome summer travelling, I packed up and moved to a brand new city – hello Seattle!  I have been adjusting to my new home and new job, and doing some crafts and food on the side, but this is the first “real” project I have finished recently.  Hopefully I will be doing more projects soon!

I knew my sister had been looking for a pair of cozy felted slippers for a long time, so I decided to make some for her birthday this past weekend.  I did some Ravelry research and settled on the “Duffers – revisited” pattern on Ravelry, which has 1669 projects to date.  Before I started knitting, I did some thorough searching through the project notes of other people.  I found lots of useful tips, which I have compiled in my own Ravelry notes.  That’s my favourite part of Ravelry!  I feel like I’ve learned from 1669 other people’s experiences.

Felted slippers

The idea behind felting knitted items is that you knit them extra big and loose with 100% wool, and then apply water, heat, and agitation to shrink them down and make the fibers link together into extra thick and cozy fabric.  The felting can be done in a washing machine or by hand.  I chose to do it in my front-loading washing machine, which is apparently a topic of debate, but worked reasonably well for me.  You can look at my Ravelry notes for more details.

I sprayed the bottom of the slippers with a rubber spray called Plasti Dip that has been mentioned by many other knitters on the internet using it for this exact purpose.  It made the bottoms nice and grippy so that my sister doesn’t slip on her nice (but kind of evil) hardwood floors.

Felted slippers

Credit for the lovely photos go to my sister Georgia herself!

Lemon-blueberry cake and brush embroidery cookies for Catherine

Lemon-blueberry wedding cake

This post is coming all the way from France!   I am on vacation with my mom, and we are on the train travelling from Paris to a little town called Labrugiuere.  Once I have internet access I’ll put this up but I figured since I have the time now, I might as well write it.  Our few days in Paris were full of pastry and excellent bread, as well as important landmarks of course.  I think I won’t be posting anything else for quite a while, since we’re just doing a lot of eating and no baking!

The cake and cookies in this post were made for my sister’s friend Catherine, who got married a couple of weeks ago.  She had seen some of my other baking and requested some for her wedding.  She was the easiest person to bake for – she basically told me to make whatever I wanted!  The wedding had a dessert buffet so I decided to make a cake and some fancy sugar cookies to add to the table.  Catherine really liked the brush embroidery cookies I made previously, so I made more of those, but in three shades of blue/green for the background.  It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but if you look closely you’ll see mossy green, baby blue, and teal.  I chose them to roughly match the colours in the rest of the wedding.

Brush embroidery cookies

The cake was a lot of fun to plan and bake.  I wanted to make something with summery flavours, so I chose lemon and blueberry, with hints of lavender, mascarpone, and honey.  The cake layers were once again Alice Medrich’s hot milk sponge cake.  I made a double batch, also adding about two tablespoons of lemon zest, and divided it between three nine-inch cake pans.  After they were baked, I split each in half to make two layers (six in total).

I consulted one of my favourite food blogs, Annie’s Eats, for the filling components.  Inspired by her blueberry-lavender-honey jam, I made a blueberry lavender filling using this recipe and replacing some of the sugar with honey (I wrote down the exact recipe I used if anyone is interested).  It was super delicious, I think my favourite part of the cake.  The lavender was noticeable and went very well with the blueberry, but it wasn’t overpowering or perfume-y.  Some other time I think I’ll have to make some actually blueberry-lavender jam just to spread on toast.  This filling wasn’t quite jam – it was fairly thick but used cornstarch to set, which might be a little odd in jam.

For the other filling, I started to use the lemon-mascarpone filling recipe from Annie’s Eats, but then pretty much stopped following it.  I made some lemon curd, since I had some extra yolks in the fridge.  Then I creamed together mascarpone and butter, and added in icing sugar, lemon curd, honey, and possibly some other things that I don’t remember.  I then folded in whipped cream.  I originally steeped lavender in cream, strained it out, and then tried to whip that, but for some reason it just didn’t whip.  So I just used regular cream.

I then made some swiss meringue buttercream for the frosting, using a little less sugar than usual, and adding honey and vanilla at the end (I also wrote down this recipe if anyone is interested).  This was very tasty, although the honey flavour was quite subtle.

While assembling the cake, I piped rings of buttercream around the perimeter of the cake layers to act as a dam before adding the fillings.  I did cake, lemon, cake, blueberry, cake, lemon, cake, blueberry, cake, lemon, cake (if that makes any sense).  Then I coated the whole thing in the honey buttercream.

I had been really keen to decorate the cake with fresh flowers, but I didn’t manage to get my hands on any organic ones.  Everything I read online says to only use organic flowers for cake decorating if they will be in contact with the cake, since non-organic  ones are not intended for consumption and often sprayed with chemicals.  The farmer’s markets seem to have a few organic flowers at the vegetable stands, but the timing just didn’t work out (I wanted to buy them at most one day in advance so they would last until the wedding).  Anyway, in the end I used wafer paper to make some flowers.  This is a very thin, edible paper made of potato starch that is pretty trendy for making cake decorations.  I didn’t have any of the special tools, but managed to imitate an “open peony” I saw online.  I brushed green and pink petal dust on (my sister helped with that) and then stuck some coloured dragées in the middle using royal icing.

My sister made the cake topper out of wood using the laser cutter at her work.  Catherine and her husband are avid swing dancers, so it seemed like the perfect addition.  We hot-glued toothpicks to the bottom and it stuck in easily.

My sister’s reports indicate that the cake was tasty!  So I call that a success.

Wafer paper flowers

Thomas’s Crazy Space Cake

Blue and orange space cake

My boyfriend has been requesting a colourful cake for a long time, so I let him design this one and he helped make it.  I have to say I was a little dubious of the colour scheme he chose but I think it turned out pretty cool in the end!  It makes me think of a foreign planet, or something from a Dr. Seuss book.  The decorations were once again inspired by Katherine Sabbath‘s cakes.
Blue and orange space cake

We baked a lemon cake from Annie’s Eats for the layers, which was a good standard almost pound cake-like cake.  It might have been a little fluffier if I had used cake flour as the recipe requested, but I never buy cake flour since it always seems to be bleached.  I have heard you can substitute a small amount of corn starch in if you use all-purpose flour, which basically reduces the gluten content to make the cake a little lighter – maybe I’ll try that next time.

I made my usual swiss meringue buttercream recipe (6 egg whites worth was pretty much perfect for filling and frosting the cake with a bit left over for piping).  I added some crushed freeze-dried raspberries, vanilla extract, and purple food colouring to the frosting for between the layers.  I added lemon extract and blue food colouring to the frosting for the outside.  I prefer the lemon buttercream I made another time by adding lemon curd – the lemon extract almost tastes like fake lemon candy to me.  But it was definitely easier!

For the decorations, we made stripey meringues, sugar glass, and added some orange rope-y candies that I found at the candy store.  I used the same striping technique as for the last meringues I made, but mixed a bit of orange food colouring into the meringue itself so there would be less contrast with the stripes.  I also added orange extract instead of orange zest, and used the recipe from Sweetapolita.  Following this recipe, the meringues dried out completely, which I prefer to the last ones, which were still chewy on the inside.

I used this recipe for the sugar glass (but I made only a half recipe, and added liquid orange food colouring).  It turned out very neat, and didn’t take long to harden at all!  I accidentally let it heat up to about 350 degrees, but it was still fine.

Here’s a view of the purple on the inside of the cake:

Blue and orange space cake

Pastel sugar cookies

Pastel sugar cookies

These cookies were based on some I found on Pinterest, from a wedding magazine called Utterly Engaged.  My sister and I made cookies like this before, the ones that came to a tragic end as I described before.  Anyway, here are the pastel cookies, Mk. 2!  I mixed the icing to between piping consistency and flood consistency (maybe shampoo-like consistency).  This allowed me to just mix one consistency of icing for each colour, and use it for both flooding and adding on details.  Flooding the cookies like this without outlining first doesn’t look quite as tidy, but sometimes you just don’t want to mix any more icing!  I loaded it into piping bags with all the round tips I could find, and just went at it.  After flooding the cookies, I added dots of other colours, dragging a toothpick through some to marble them.  I especially like the big blue cookie that’s sitting on top in the above photo.  I made the flower in the center by piping big white dots, then adding smaller pink dots over top.  Then I dragged a toothpick through, starting in the white dot and moving through the pink one.
Pastel sugar cookies

Raspberry cupcakes

Raspberry cupcakes

It has been way too long since I made cupcakes, so today I made some simple and tasty ones and delivered them to my sister’s work.  I had some left over raspberry filling from the cake I made a few days ago, so I used it both for filling the cupcakes and for mixing into the swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  Filling them was quite fun – I got to use the long skinny piping tip that came with my set for the first time!  Just fill it with raspberry filling, stick it in to the cupcake, and squeeze!  You can even see the cupcake expand a little.  I started to run out of filling near the end so the one in the picture below is a little skimpy, but you get the idea.
Raspberry cupcakes

The cupcake recipe itself is from Georgetown Cupcakes.  I left out the vanilla bean and added 1/4 tsp rosewater for a very subtle rose taste.  They were very light, fluffy, and tasty – I think I will use this as my default vanilla cupcake recipe from now on.  I overfilled the cupcake liners accidentally so a bunch of them overflowed, but I think if I had put the right amount in I would have gotten about 18 (not 24 like the recipe says).  I got the cupcake liners from Shop Sweet Lulu (although it looks like they no longer have them).